Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Victorian Church

15th century and Victorian masonry at St. John the Baptist's church

Having briefly examined the visible mediaeval masonry at St. John the Baptist's church, where the local Carboniferous sandstone contrasts strongly with the “Rotherham Red” sandstone, a walk anti-clockwise around the church brings you to the west front.

Jurassic limestone dressings to the west door

When the sun shines on this elevation, the difference between the masonry of both the 15th century tower and the Victorian nave would probably not be noticeable to the casual observer, as both are pale in colour, with tinges of red and orange; however, the Victorian extension is essentially built from Permian dolomitic limestone

A view of the south aisle and porch

Although when it was built in 1897, the architect was probably just making a good technical and commercial decision when selecting Permian limestone ahead of “Rotherham Red” sandstone for the external fabric, he made a very deliberate artistic choice, when specifying an oolitic Jurassic limestone for the dressings.

A view of the south aisle and chancel

Continuing the walk around the constricted south side of the church, the same pattern is seen in the south aisle and the chancel – added in 1933 – but the porch provides a very interesting highlight, for anyone who is interested in the construction history of ancient buildings.

The Norman south door

Here, “Rotherham Red” sandstone walling is dressed with Jurassic limestone, with a traditional riven sandstone roof, and a highly decorated Norman south door, which was relocated during the building of the Victorian church. 

A detail of the Norman south door

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Mediaeval Church

The chancel arch in St. John the Baptist's church in Wales

There is no mention of a church in Wales in the Domesday Book and St. John the Baptist's church is believed to have been built in the reign of Henry I, during the 12th century.

A general view from the north-east

Comprising a simple nave and chapel, the oldest masonry seen in what is now the north aisle is built with irregularly coursed rubble blocks of the local Pennine Middle Coal Measures sandstone, with roughly shaped quoins. The very crude nature of the walling is further emphasised by the use of large face bedded stones in the lower courses, which is quite an unusual feature.

Large faced bedded blocks of sandstone in the Norman nave

Like many other similar sandstones that can be found around the Pennines, it is a poor quality building stone, with a high silt content and variable quantities of iron oxides, and is very weathered in places - often with deep scouring of the softer beds.

Variations in weathering

The next phase of the construction is during the 15th century, with the addition of the tower and the rebuilding of the upper third of the old Norman walls – including the windows - using a coarse, cross-bedded and mottled variety of “Rotherham Red” sandstone, as previously seen in the 15th extensions of the mediaeval churches in Harthill and Todwick.

The 15th century tower

Also, the 15th century windows in all three churches are remarkably similar in style – with the window surrounds essentially built in the "Rotherham Red" sandstone, with Magnesian Limestone reserved for the mullions and tracery.

A 15th century window added to the Norman nave

In the interior, the original south wall of the church has been completely demolished and replaced by the north arcade of the Victorian church and all of the walls have been plastered; however a fine Norman arch, with chevrons and other carved details, has been left exposed.

A detail of the chancel arch

Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Church of St. John the Baptist

The west elevation of St. John the Baptist's church

Entering St. John the Baptist's churchyard from Church Street - and taking a quick walk around to survey the topography of the site - a large mound to the front of the west elevation and a tight southern boundary gives this church a very constricted feel.

Having investigated several mediaeval churches in South Yorkshire that originally consisted of a simple Anglo-Saxon/Norman nave and chancel and which have been firstly extended to the north side - with the southern part of the churchyard reserved for Christian burials – the Victorian extension of this church appears to go against all tradition.

From an architectural historian's point of view – and through a close examination of its building stones - it is therefore easy to clearly distinguish the mediaeval and Victorian phases of construction and restoration.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Church Street

Church Street

During my exploration of the village of Wales, to get a general appreciation of the topography and the building materials used in its oldest buildings, no exposures of the Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation have been seen to date but, walking up Church Street, there are several examples of its use in modest historic vernacular buildings.

The Old Rectory

It is a fine grained, laminated sandstone that is light buff and green-grey in colour when fresh but, when weathered, it forms a patina that can be deep orange/brown – a reflection of its high iron content; furthermore, the beds of silt that are usually found in Carboniferous sandstones of this age are differentially weathered and have been scoured out by the elements.

Vernacular architecture on Church Street

Compared to the “Rotherham Red” sandstone and the Magnesian Limestone, it is a very inferior building stone and can only be seen as irregularly coursed rubble walling in the oldest parts of the various buildings on Church Street - or recycled in later phases of construction.

The Duke of Leeds

Looking around, whilst walking up the gentle slope from Wales War Memorial to St. John the Baptist church, the boundary walls are generally built in Magnesian Limestone but - once inside the churchyard - the first good view of this church is of the Norman north aisle, the 15th century tower and the west end of the Victorian addition, which comprises the nave and south aisle.

A general view of the church of St. John the Baptist in Wales

Monday, 12 September 2016

The Geology of Wales

The geology of Wales

During my investigation of the “Rotherham Red” sandstone mediaeval churches along the No. 74 bus route from Treeton to Harthill, All Saints church in Aston was next on my list; however, with no access available outside formal services, a change of bus to the X5 soon took me to Wales, which is set on an outcrop of sandstone that is described on the geological map as forming part of the Pennine Middle Coal Measures Formation.

A view west towards Sheffield

This outcrop forms part of a cyclical succession of thin sandstones and shales, with once important seams of coal, that lies between the Mansfield Marine Band and the Mexborough Rock, and which form scarp-and-vale topography that gives most of Rotherham its character. 

A view of the Rotherham Red sandstone to the north
In Treeton, the sandstone was once known as Treeton Rock and forms an escarpment that overlooks the River Rother – together with a few other smaller distinctive landforms – but the landscape is much softer in Wales.

Getting off the bus on the outskirts of the village, on a bright and sunny day, views of the Millstone Grit moors on the edge of the Peak District National Park - which rise to the west of Sheffield - can be clearly seen.

Walking towards the centre of the old village of Wales, the first building stones that can be seen are from the Magnesian Limestone - to build a school and for the dressings of a Methodist church and a couple of houses of similar age. One house, dated 1987, uses both Rotherham Red sandstone and another indeterminate Carboniferous sandstone but, arriving at the centre of the old village, a handful of old agricultural buildings are again built of Magnesian Limestone.

An arch built in Magnesian Limestone 

A quick exploration of the historic buildings in the immediate area reveals that both Magnesian Limestone and Rotherham Red sandstone have been used extensively, in combination with the local sandstone that was presumably once quarried in the vicinity of Old Quarry Avenue, which now forms part of a modern housing estate.

An old agricultural building constructed in limestone and sandstone

Once I had taken a good look at the war memorial, I continued with my principal objective of the day – to investigate the construction history of the church of St. John the Baptist.

Wales War Memorial

Monday, 5 September 2016

An Old Quarry in Harthill

"Rotherham Red" sandstone in Harthill

From previous experience of surveying a wide variety of geological sites in South Yorkshire, the Republic of Ireland and the Peak District National Park, I know that very many old quarries are on private land – hidden by plantations, small housing estates and commercial developments – and gaining access isn't possible for a casual visitor.

A general view of  the "Church Quarry"

Having visited Harthill several times this year, to study the building stones of All Hallows church and the village, I had effectively exhausted the places that I could survey but a chance meeting with a local resident – who suggested that no one would mind if I took a look – provided an opportunity to investigate an old quarry that is presumed to be the source of its building stone.

Massive wedge bedded sandstone

Set on the northern part of the escarpment that runs from the rear of the church up to Winney Hill, it is surrounded by mature trees that forms a dense canopy. In this sheltered, dank environment, the majority of the old quarry faces – comprising massive wedge bedded sandstone – are largely obscured by moss, algae and lichens but a distinct red colouration of the stone can still be seen.

A detail of laminated beds with ironstone pellets

In places, the upper parts of the quarry faces expose laminated beds that contain purple shale partings and ironstone pellets, which are a common feature of the “Rotherham Red” sandstone. These beds are softer than the underlying massive rock and the weathering of these and the soil horizons have contributed to the formation of a scree that covers much of the lower parts of the quarry face.

A packhorse bridge

Although its size and close proximity to the centre of the old village might suggest that this quarry was the major supplier of typical “Rotherham Red” sandstone used for the historic vernacular buildings, there is no evidence of the mottled/yellow colour or gritty texture that is a feature of the sandstone that has been used in All Hallows church.

A detail of sandstone at All Hallows church

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Todwick - St. Peter & St. Paul

A general view of the church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Todwick

The village of Todwick is the next stop on my investigation of the mediaeval parish churches that are set on the outcrop of the Rotherham Red sandstone – and which can be easily investigated on the No. 74 bus route that runs from Treeton to Harthill.

A geological map of the area around Todwick

Unlike the village of Harthill, the Rotherham Red sandstone around Todwick forms a gently undulating landscape, partially covered in glacial till and with no escarpments that would obviously be exploited by quarrying; however, on rising ground immediately to the south of St. Peter & St.Paul's church, a plantation may cover former quarry workings.

Sandstone and limestone in an old agricultural building

Apart from the church and manor house, a handful of other historic buildings are found half a mile to the north and which are essentially constructed of Rotherham Red sandstone, with some old barns using both sandstone and dolomitic limestone.

An Anglo-Saxon/Norman north door to the nave

St. Peter and St. Paul's church is a simple structure comprising an 11th century coursed rubble sandstone aisleless nave, with a 14th century chancel and porch – both in squared dolomitic limestone – and a 15th century tower, which is constructed in mottled red/yellow sandstone that is very similar to the one seen in the tower at All Hallows, Harthill.

Mottled Rotherham Red sandstone to the tower

With the exception of the original dolomitic limestone mullions to the belfry windows, which are virtually identical in style to All Hallows, all of the dressings are built in the same stone as the walls; however, there is no consistency in the stone used for later restoration and repairs.

Repairs and restoration to the west elevation of the tower

The masonry to the exterior of the nave was once covered in thick layers of lime wash or lime plaster and this is still seen in the interior, although - in 1969 - this was removed from the Norman sandstone chancel arch, and presumably the other dressings, to reveal its rubble core.

The chancel arch